MOST RECENT UPDATE: FRIDAY 28 JULY
Seventeen and a half years is quite a haul. By the time I reached that age, I was six months into my training as a student teacher (official designation 'Cadet Education Officer') at the Australian School of Administration, ASOPA, established in cold, weatherbeaten World War II Army barracks on Middle Head in Sydney.
Successful completion of the course meant a posting to what was then the Territory of Papua and New Guinea: the former an Australian colony; the latter governed on a mandate from the United Nations.
Yes, there is a link of sorts. After seventeen and a half years, PNG Attitude (originally ASOPA People) ceased publication on Wednesday, 12 July, 2023. Here, in what I expect to be my final piece, I want to explain why I feel I cannot go on.
As news of my decision spread, concerned readers and contributors responded in an explosion of emails, texts and tweets. This reinforced for me the value of people's long-standing support of this one-man project. It was my connection with good people who wanted to participate and help, whether upfront on the blog or through email back channels, that kept me going on many occasions when I thought the endpoint was near.
This time, however, I have indefinitely suspended the production of PNG Attitude. Its rich content will remain as long as possible, to preserve accessibility (17,200 posts, 51,500 comments and other archival material) . But, apart from the current process of winding up, this will not be an active website.
I have since come to understand that there must be an important exception to leaving this site lie fallow.
The Recent Comments column grew in importance as the blog matured and within it there has amassed much significant information and dialogue, and many valuable stories, observations and corrections.
When with the blog a year old, I realised Recent Comments had taken on a life of its own, and despite an offer from the Typepad platform to limit the lifespan of readers' remarks, I decided it must remain intact in perpetuity.
Thankfully, this is something I'm able to manage in hours of clarity. And reading what you have to say is usually a great pleasure.
I must apologise for the haste and lack of notice of closure. I'd been struggling to maintain the blog for some time and had gradually been winding it down, seeking to keep publishing, even minimally.
The decline in the quantity of content was not due to losing readers. Although, as the blog waned this year, there was a drop from an average of 2,250 to 1,750 discrete readers a day.
The current statistics have settled to about 750 readers a day as Recent Comments ploughs on. Recent Notes, added to deal with information provided by readers, may increase this number .
Many of you will know, and I have made no secret of it, that I've been ill with ME/CFS for many years. It was diagnosed in 2001 by Professor Denis Wakefield at St Vincent's in Sydney and worsened rapidly, forcing me to retire as CEO of Jackson Wells Morris, the public relations company I had founded in 1991.
After the diagnosis, my health oscillated between acceptable and impossible. For the most part, I was stuck in a pattern that gave me two or three good hours a day, sometimes as much as as a whole day. I could go for a morning walk, keep in touch with the company by email, but was unable to work at full capacity nor with consistency and predictability.
It was a contradictory and confounding time for me. In 2003, when I stepped down, the company had recorded its highest annual revenue, it employed 23 people and it was ranked as one of the five top Australian-owned PR firms.
It was my pride and joy, but I no longer had the energy to manage it, and in my degraded state, I had developed anxiety about undertaking complex work and participating in pitches and high-level meetings. Sometimes I had difficulty in expressing myself coherently or not understanding a question or following a discussion.
This state continues today, but worse. I'm in a cognitive haze for many hours a day and beset by a physical exhaustion that is unrelieved by sleep. I spend much time bed- or chair-bound, relying on medication to provide relief. At times I'm fine, but I never know which Keith Jackson will appear - the good one or the bad one - and when or for how long.
Back in 2003, after a couple of years trying to crash through all this, I handed over my CEO's position to a business partner who had been with the company from nearly the beginning.
It turned out to be a succession that failed to succeed. The firm's performance deteriorated and by 2007 it had experienced a two-thirds drop in revenue. There as no commensurate reduction in spending. The company was quickly going broke. So in mid-2007 I returned to my desk for a shaky month managing a comprehensive restructure and downsizing - that dreadful euphemism for telling people they no longer have a job.
Jackson Wells Morris never again reached its previous heights and, despite the slashing and burning, its decline continued. In 2012 I returned to my desk once more, this time to arrange an orderly liquidation of the company and to shut its doors for good.
By the time I established PNG Attitude in February 2006, I had been ill for six years. But I figured that my fickle health would be compensated by contributions from other people.
Also I wanted to encourage more writers from PNG to reveal themselves. There was great hesitancy amongst Papua New Guineans writers about placing their work, especially if it involved criticism, in the public arena. Tall poppies are cut down just as readily in PNG as they are in Australia.
Author and former kiap Phil Fitzpatrick had become a major contributor to the blog and in 2010 suggested half jokingly that PNG Attitude organise a writing contest. I thought that, working with a partner, this was something I could do. The idea soon grew into a plan to initiate a system of literary awards in PNG.
So the Crocodile Prize was born, a contest restricted to Papua New Guineans. Readers and PNG business organisations provided funds for prizemoney and the Australian High Commission in Port Moresby helped by hosting an event at which the award winners were announced.
We announced the first contest at the end of 2010 and in September 2011 the first four awards were presented at a function hosted by the High Commission. At the same time we launched the first Crocodile Prize Anthology, a 190-page book containing the best entries. By 2014, it had grown into a massive 500-page volume.
The Crocodile Prize engendered a literary revolution in PNG. And under Fitzpatrick's guiding hand, it spun off a publishing operation - Pukpuk Publications - which over the next few years was to publish more than 50 books, most of them the work of Papua New Guinean authors.
The excellent ballast and stabilisation provided to the blog by the support of scores of people in Australia and PNG meant that, even though I could not forecast the sudden and severe ME/CFS slumps, I could continue to publish and edit a substantive website. Our goal of enhancing the person-to-person relationship between Papua New Guinea and Australia had developed traction.
PNG Attitude turned out to be a marvellous project, its success driven by the combined efforts of many people collaborating as unpaid volunteers. The blog, the Crocodile Prize, Pukpuk Publications, training, mentoring and study tours were developed.
Sadly, the PNG government showed no interest in the initiative and, when High Commissioner Ian Kemish left PNG, the Australian government's support disappeared.
Phil Fitzpatrick's book, Fighting For A Voice (available through Amazon) tells the fascinating story of PNG Attitude and the Crocodile Prize.
As for me, the physical and cognitive effects of ME/CFS continued to waver between total dislocation and periods of remission. I could see, amongst the constant fluctuations, a remorseless downward-trending curve.
At one point, around the time PNG Attitude began in 2006, I experienced a longish remission that seemed to augur a full recovery. My doctors thought I might be one of the fortunate five percent who, for some inexplicable reason, recover. The symptoms did recur from time to time, but mostly they were mild and done with after a couple of days. However, the illness returned, relentlessly worsening to a point where, by 2022, I was effectively an invalid, largely trapped at home and compelled to greatly limit activity, whether social events, driving or even short walks.
ME/CFS is a strange illness with scores of symptoms which, in various permutations, are triggered by life’s commonplace stresses or by what the brain interprets as inordinate physical or mental activity.
In its worst form, it can deliver an extreme response - a bodily ‘crash’ (sometimes called a 'flare' or 'relapse') which, as the word suggests, is a sudden and severe physical and cognitive descent to a bedridden state. This year, the crashes became more frequent, escalating to 20 or more a month, leaving me in an almost continuous state of debility, cognitive failure, great fatigue and sickness.
A crash disrupts clarity of thought, muffles memory, extinguishes meaning in what people are saying, it can even steal my voice. A crash usually lasts for two or three hours and has a long, debilitating tail extending for many days.
As my condition significantly worsened this year, I began to understand that I needed to recalibrate how I led my life. I needed to compute how much I could intelligently fit into each day. I needed to find an equilibrium between sedentary and active, which would try to keep the crashes at bay and allow me a reasonable continuing state of satiety and sanity.
On Wednesday 12 July I fully realised that, to find that equilibrium, I had to better manage activities that which didn't push me so hard my dysfunctional brain would shut me down. I had already eliminated most work and social activity but had to do more to give mind and body a chance to stabilise.
I had to apply sterner limits to my activity to avoid the crashes that were driving me deeper and deeper into the illness. I knew that ME/CFS could get far, far worse.
So I realised that I'd published PNG Attitude for as long as I could, I had to cut back. The game was up.